Aluya Ikhena - Mental Health Care Manager
We talk to Aluya about his work as shift leader for a mental healthcare provider and his passion for excellence in mental health care. Aluya kindly offers his opinions about a career in mental health care and where to begin.
16th January 2012
You’ve worked in your current position of Shift Leader for a mental healthcare provider for several years now. Can you give us some more detail about your day to day work in this job?
My day to day job is very versatile, no two days are exactly the same. However, there are some specific tasks that I have to perform to maintain the operational aspects and standards of my job as well as to maintain the care of our service users. These aspects involve medication administration, petty cash management, task delegation and staff supervision. Other aspects of my role involve leasing with stakeholders such as service users, their families, other professionals, and our service purchasers. It is also expected of me to respond to dispute resolution and distress / risk management issues that arise. My ultimate task during my shift is to ensuring that service users feel safe and enabled in their home.
Before this job you volunteered for an outreach group and worked as a support worker in home for young people with autism. How did these roles inspire your interest your interest in mental health care?
These roles enabled me participate in a wider range of social care provision. I worked with an agency for about a year in 2004/2005 which afforded me the opportunity to work with a few organizations offering a vast range of social care such services as elderly care, learning disabilities, for the visually impaired, day centres and residential homes in mental health settings. This enabled me develop skills that I find very beneficial to my current role because in social care, the biggest mistake practitioners make is the assumption that service users are one dimensional. In reality, people have different aspects of them, and their needs change or intertwine. Having a vast area of expertise affords me the opportunity to be equipped to deal with issues as they occur. Working as a volunteer in sexual health really helps me in my current role because some service users I currently work with sometimes want advice on this area and they need to be in a trusting professional relationship to express them. As much as I sign post them to sexual health experts, it’s good to know that as a first point of call, I have an understanding (however limited) of their concerns.
You’ve undertaken a great deal of training in health and social care and mental health studies. Can you tell us how the Certificate in Mental Health Studies you undertook improved your skills and approach to providing care?
The certificate in mental health studies I undertook in 2009 has improved my understanding of the needs of people involved in the mental health system (service users, families, staff and others). One of my modules was challenging ideas in mental health and to date, I still refer to this course. I found it very enlightening and have improved my practice vastly. Although, it’s hard sometimes to cascade this knowledge because this level (5) of qualification is not a requirement for the role. This can be a bit frustrating sometimes.
Do you think your experience as a support worker has given you a good grounding for progressing your career to a management position?
Apart from the academic qualifications (BSc in Health and Social Care, Managing Care and Certificate in Mental Health studies) I have also done a few NVQs such as level 3 and 4 in health and social care (Adults) and Level 4 in management. This show that I have the skills to progress to management and I would love to. However, I have continued studying for a Master’s degree and hope to have an opportunity to manage care in the nearest future.
From a Shift Leader’s point of view, how do you ensure all the care provided by the staff in your team is always person centered and preserves the dignity of the individuals?
I find leading by example as a great way of encouraging staff towards good practice. Establishing a culture of openness and respect helps a great deal in ensuring that standards are maintained. Staff supervision is a great avenue for me and staff to evaluate their practice and mine and ensure that we are working towards best practice at all times.
How do you prioritise your responsibilities between managing the business aspects of your job, such as cash flow and budgeting, and organising care packages and the implementation of that care?
This is a very interesting aspect of social care that sometimes can go wrong. In my case, I am very lucky because social care is career change for me. I did a HND in Accounting in Nigeria before I came to the UK and I worked in the business field for about 2 years, so I understand the business aspects of care such as budgeting and cost management very well. Although I work for a non-profit organisation at the moment, it's acutely important for the service to run cost effectively without reducing the quality of care. This is tricky sometimes but it is easier when the manager is able to understand the strategic, operational and professional aspects of social care and being able to put this into a business framework and be practice led at the same time. However, my current role is limited in this area but this is the aspect of management I am so looking forward to.
Thinking of your current role, you work with a team of care staff. As a Manager, what would be the qualities you look for in a mental health support worker?
A commitment to continuous development is the key quality to look for in staff. The environments within which social care is delivered are constantly changing (legally, culturally, socially and technologically) without continuous developments, the ever changing needs of service users are at the risk of not being met. Other qualities include passion for mental health care, patience, honesty and good communication skills.
Do you think dedicated mental health training is essential for support workers who want to pursue a career in mental health care?
Absolutely! Unfortunately many organisations don’t see it this way. It’s very sad sometimes when those that go out of their way to train and qualify are seen as the minority and usually institutionally discouraged from doing so. I would like to see incentives and encouragement for trained staff especially in the private and voluntary sectors.
What would your advice be to someone looking to pursue a career in mental health?
I would advise they do a mental health nursing training first because you are taken more seriously with an RMN qualification. Other degrees such as Health and Social care are yet to get the same level of professional respect nursing, social work or psychology has in social care sector. This is a shame but unfortunately true.
Do you think there is a big enough range of employment opportunities to offer someone who wants to develop their career in mental health care?
No - especially when you don’t have a professional qualification. However, I am happy with the introduction of the IAPT workers. Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners is a very much welcome addition to the mental health sector.
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